MOSCOW — Russia’s Navy is sending two warships into the Eastern Mediterranean, near the shores of Syria.
At the same time, Russia’s state-controlled TV shows President Vladimir Putin 6,000 kilometers to the east, touring flooded farmland in Siberia.
All week long, Russia’s president has kept quiet in public on Syria.
He is leaving his aides to do the talking as Western powers consider punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly gassing inhabitants of a Damascus suburb last week.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted: "The West behaves like a monkey with a grenade in the Islamic world."
Military victory "an illusion"
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was more diplomatic about Western intervention in Syria’s civil war.
“If somebody thinks that by bombing the Syrian military infrastructure and leaving the battlefield for the opponents of the regime to win, they will end it - it is an illusion,” Lavrov said Monday at a press conference here. “Even if they win in such a way, the civil war will continue. Those who represented the government side will simply become the opposition.”
Russian analysts said that one or two days of punishing air strikes will not turn the tide of a war that has already cost 100,000 lives.
"Syrian regime will suffer a lot and it will lose some of its potential,” said Georgy Mirsky, professor of Mideast studies at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “But Russia and Iran will make up for it. Everything will be compensated for this."
Mirsky and Russian parliamentarians say that Washington’s true goal today is the same as Washington’s past goals in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya - regime change.
Mirsky said that Russia will gain by doing nothing, calling such a position "extremely advantageous" to Russia.
"Now if the Americans engage in a war, in a new war they can't win, it is all the better for Russia," he said.
Blaming the rebels
Leaders of the United States and France said they are moved to military action by the alleged poison gas attack last week that reportedly killed 350 civilians and injured thousands more.
In the West, the prevailing consensus is that Syrian government soldiers carried out the gas attack, making it the latest escalation in over two years of attacks on civilians in opposition areas.
In Russia, diplomats and journalists have repeatedly suggested that Syrian opposition fighters gassed their own neighborhoods.
"Why is there such certainty that this was done by the regime while the arguments we're hearing are anyway not convincing?’” asked Vitaly Naumkin, World Politics faculty chair at Moscow State University. “It's incomprehensible. Why we can't wait for the (United Nations) inspectors to finish their work?"
Dissenting voices have been silenced.
Mahmoud al-Hamza, a Moscow-based member of the Syrian National Council, the opposition umbrella group, spoke to VOA.
"In the year since President Obama said that using chemical weapons crosses the red line, Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons and gas thirteen times," he said "This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last."
Al-Hamza says he is rarely invited to appear on Russian television.
“Two months ago, we wanted to hold a round table on Syria, and the special services warned us that they would arrest us,” he said, referring to Russia’s intelligence services. Speaking for opponents of President Assad, he said in Russian: “We don’t feel comfortable here.”
UN veto and evacuation
In the last two years, Russia has vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions for taking action against the Syrian government three times. Given the chance in coming days, Russia will undoubtedly cast a fourth veto.
Russian officials admit their ability to block the United States is limited. Even Minister Lavrov said Monday: “We are not going to fight anybody.”
A Navy official said Friday that the main role for Russian warships sent to Syria could be to evacuate some of the estimated 30,000 Russian citizens who live there.
The most Russia may do is snub President Obama next week when he comes to St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit. On Friday, a Kremlin aide said that President Putin will be too busy to do more than shake hands with the visiting American president.